Deciphering China’s Intentions: What Can Open Sources Tell Us?
Over the past several years, bold assertions about China’s long-range strategic goals have become common in the US public discourse. In 2015, Michael Pillsbury published his influential volume The Hundred-Year Marathon, which purported to disclose China’s “frightening plans” to overtake the United States as the world’s leading power by 2049 and rewrite the rules of global order to suit Beijing’s parochial interests.1 Such views are echoed in official US assessments. The 2018 National Defense Strategy asserted that:
As China continues its economic and military ascendance, asserting power through an all-of-nation long-term strategy, it will continue to pursue a military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.2
Skeptics have challenged these judgements on various grounds. Several have critiqued Pillsbury’s evidence as flawed and inadequate.3 Others have argued more generally that China’s aspirations are less sweeping than they have sometimes between portrayed in scholarly and official circles. Writing in The Asan Forum, former senior US intelligence official Paul Heer argues that instead of trying to supplant the international order, China is “increasingly pursuing its interest within Western-established institutions like the UN and the G-20 because China sees most of those institutions trending in its favor.”4
Implicit in these debates is a prior question: how can we know what China’s strategic goals are in the first place? International relations theorists have long speculated based on comparative history and deductive logic, but the gold standard is evidence from China itself. Without access to privileged information about the inner workings and designs of the Chinese party-state, however, we have to make do with three categories of open source data: documentary evidence, such as party documents and non-authoritative books and articles; inferences based on China’s development of military, economic, and diplomatic power resources; and the track record of Chinese behavior, notably on contentious regional issues. Each category presents unique challenges, but can—alone and in combination—yield some insights into China’s ambitions. Thus, it is worth asking what these sources can tell us, what they cannot, and how we can apply analytic rigor to data that are often, at best, incomplete and difficult to interpret.
Interrogating “authoritative” sources
A first category of information are the pronouncements of senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials and those close to them. These sources can be divided into two types. First are official documents and speeches, which can often help clarify CCP policies and priorities, and coordinate actions across the Party-state. One example is the articulation of a 3-stage development strategy in Xi Jinping’s October 2017 work report to the 19th Party Congress. This strategy guides planning for national social and economic development, with a series of targets established between 2020 and the middle of the century. China, for instance, should become a “global leader in innovation” by 2035 and a leader in terms of “composite national strength and international influence by mid-century.”5 The document also outlines a general timeframe for Chinese military modernization:
- By 2020, mechanization will be basically complete, informationization will have made great strides, and strategic capabilities will see big improvements.
- By 2035, national defense modernization will be basically completed; and
- By mid-century, the armed forces will have been fully transformed into world-class forces.
This example shows that party documents, while sometimes containing useful information, are often light on concrete details. Taking the CCP’s final military objective as an example, the meaning of the phrase “world-class forces” (世界一流军队) is ambiguous. Does this suggest a military with state-of-the-art weapons and equipment? One that can prevail against the United States in a regional war? One able to operate globally to protect China’s interests? All of the above? Or something else entirely?6 Absent further details, we cannot know what the desired end state is or even whether senior party officials themselves know. More likely, the relevant bureaucracy will take the party’s general guidance back into their own system and develop plans based on the specific constraints within which they have to operate. In some cases, especially for dates beyond the party’s current five-year planning cycle, it is probable that more precise goals have not yet been established.
In other cases, official statements are problematic because of their mixed messages. Deng Xiaoping’s famous “24 character” strategy, which he promulgated in the early 1990s, is best known for the four characters that roughly translate as “hide our capabilities and bide our time” (韬光养晦), but the following four characters indicated that China should still “do something” (有所作为). Little can be inferred about China’s future intentions from this contradictory sentiment: the message was phrased in such a way as to provide maximum flexibility for future leaders as they navigated the difficult waters China was entering as an emerging power.
Another problem in dealing with authoritative texts is the issue of author’s intent. While informing an audience of official priorities and timelines is one goal of these documents, there are also ulterior motives. One is purely political: the elevation of “Xi Jinping Thought” into the party’s constitution, for instance, signaled Xi’s dominant status within the system, given that neither of his predecessors were able to insert their own names into the party’s ideological canon. What exactly Xi Thought is, in this view, is much less important than the fact of its canonization and repeated recitation. This is necessary in a system in which senior leaders need to differentiate themselves to gain political advantage, often by developing unique brands and slogans.
Party documents are also public relations tools, which highlight the party’s achievements in delivering different goods. In particular, the party needs to be seen to be raising the standard of living for ordinary Chinese citizens and making progress on nationalist projects like unification with Taiwan, since economic growth and nationalism are two of the party’s key bases of domestic legitimacy. When the 19th Party Congress work report referenced “the resolve, the confidence, and the ability” to defeat Taiwan independence, for example, we need to consider that such phrases might have been included not only to deter Taiwan independence advocates but also to assuage domestic nationalists.
International speeches by senior CCP officials can also provide some insight into Chinese ambitions, after accounting for deceptive rhetoric. At the Shangri-La Dialogue and the Xiangshan Forum, for example, Chinese officials often portray the United States as the real provocateur in regional disputes while construing China as a benevolent and capable partner.7 Neither of those assertions themselves may reflect reality—from a US perspective, the opposite is true—but reading between the lines, we can infer that China’s motive is to create fissures between Washington and its allies and partners, while also addressing regional doubts about China’s own behavior and aspirations.
A final problem related to authoritative sources, both domestic and international, is that their shelf life is uncertain. In 1975, it would have been almost impossible to predict China’s goals in 1985, due to the dramatic shift towards “reform and opening” made by Deng in 1978. Although current plans include goals through mid-century, we could be surprised at the differences between CCP priorities today and those it actually pursues in the late 2020s, especially if a shock—such as an economic collapse—were to occur in the interim. In addition, Xi has not named a successor, and despite his apparent desire to stay on as party general secretary beyond the end of his second term in 2022, his own longevity is unknown. Whoever comes next could move China down a different path altogether.
The second type of documentary evidence involves discussions among Chinese academics and think tank experts who may be informed about, or in some cases may even influence, internal discussions.8 These “non-authoritative” sources are numerous and often readily accessible through online databases, but how closely they resemble internal thinking within the CCP is unclear. It is also sometimes hard to distinguish Chinese experts who are well-informed with those that are merely prolific. Used carefully, however, books, articles, and other written materials, and conversations with those who compose them, can help to interpret official policies, and in some cases can shed light on issues where the CCP has yet to render a verdict or is reconsidering existing policies.9
An example is making sense of what CCP officials call the “period of strategic opportunity” (战略机遇期). This phrase, first used by Jiang Zemin at the 16th Party Congress in 2002, signaled that China had a period of 20 years to pursue domestic reforms because of a generally stable international environment. Xi reiterated that judgement in his 19th Party Congress work report. Debates among Chinese experts could indicate whether the party is likely to remain committed to this view as the 20-year mark approaches in 2022. In 2019, for instance, the well-connected specialist Da Wei writes that China remains in a “period of strategic opportunity” because the United States “has not yet designed any policies that aim to contain China’s development and progress.”10 Other writings might help validate this conclusion, but it will ultimately be up to the party elite to make the decision.
Cataloguing growing capabilities
In addition to what the Chinese tell us and each other about their aspirations, we can also draw inferences from the kinds of capabilities they are building. It is obvious that Chinese capabilities have been expanding across the dimensions of national power. This can be observed in the data compiled by many organizations over the past several years. China’s growing military power has been well documented in US government publications such as the Defense Intelligence Agency’s 2019 China Military Power report, as well as the annual Congressionally-mandated reports on Chinese military and security developments produced by the Office of the Secretary of Defense.11 Congressional Research Service reports have also offered valuable insight into Chinese naval modernization trends.12
Analysts of Chinese military affairs have also relied on open sources, including newspapers, websites, and commercial satellite imagery, to chronicle recent developments. Just to take two examples, John Costello and Joe McReynolds painstakingly scoured online data, such as bidding and tender documents, to identify the organizational composition of China’s new Strategic Support Force, which is responsible for space, cyber, and electromagnetic warfare;13 meanwhile, researchers at CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative used high-resolution satellite images to survey the progress of China’s prodigious land reclamation in the South China Sea and the subsequent installation of military hardware on those features.
Yeoman work has also helped to document China’s international power resources in other domains. While China’s State Council does not provide comprehensive data on the location of overseas investments, the American Enterprise Institute has compiled such information through its China Global Investment Tracker database;14 another key source is CSIS’s Reconnecting Asia database, which details Chinese overseas infrastructure projects.15 The College of William and Mary’s AidData Project has drawn from thousands of Chinese and third-country sources to catalogue China’s foreign aid and development finance expenditures.16 CSIS’s China Power Project, under the leadership of Bonnie Glaser, has become a useful clearinghouse of data on Chinese power in its various guises, including the military, economics, and technology.17
Despite these resources, many of China’s capabilities remain hidden from public view. The nature of Chinese overseas intelligence operations, for instance, is sketchy (though some inferences can be made from recent FBI investigations), while details on some Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) transactions have eluded foreign observers. Relations between key Chinese private technological firms, such as Huawei and ZTE, and the CCP are also somewhat unclear, despite the presence of party committees within private enterprises. China’s military is notoriously non-transparent, both in terms of weapons and equipment and in other areas, such as defense budgets, doctrine, and training standards.
Filling in these gaps might paint an even more robust picture of Chinese capabilities, supporting the argument that Beijing aspires to preeminence in some areas. However, low transparency might also indicate persisting weaknesses that could frustrate such ambitions. For example, China’s military may be hiding vulnerabilities in critical systems or downplaying the prevalence of corruption in the officer corps. There may also be lingering problems with interagency coordination. While Xi Jinping has tried to address bureaucratic stove-piping by establishing a National Security Commission in late 2013, it is unclear whether that reform has actually helped to improve strategic planning and crisis response, since little about that organization’s operations have been publicly reported. If that reform has not been successful, Beijing might not be able to marshal different instruments of national power to pursue strategic aims.
Another weakness of relying on China’s expanding power profile to judge its intentions is that some developments might not reflect strategic considerations. The BRI is a case in point. China’s foreign infrastructure construction and financing has been construed in some international circles as evidence of a Chinese masterplan to develop strategic influence in Eurasia. To be sure, Chinese discussions do suggest that there are geopolitical motives at work, including offsetting US influence in key regions and diversifying China’s energy supplies.18 However, some aspects of the BRI can also be explained by purely economic motives, such as finding outlets for excess industrial capacity, supporting cash-strapped state-owned enterprises, keeping Chinese construction workers employed, and linking underdeveloped Chinese regions, such as Xinjiang and Yunnan, to surrounding markets.19 There is also evidence of Chinese firms using the BRI to pursue profits rather than furthering the party’s agenda.20
Bureaucratic politics can also explain some of China’s growing capabilities. Consider, for example, inter-service rivalry within the Chinese military. Competition for scarce financial resources has arguably led the navy to emphasize long-range missions that require the acquisition of new, and expensive, capabilities, including heavy cruisers and aircraft carriers; the air force has built long-range bombers and other overwater capabilities, which has traditionally been a navy role; and the army, not wanting to be left out, is angling for resources by emphasizing its centrality to major regional operations, such as a Taiwan campaign, and is reforming its force structure to be more relevant to those missions.21 These rivalries may only increase with slowing economic growth.
A final limitation is that capabilities do not inexorably lead to behavior. Chinese leaders may be, on balance, increasingly confident that they can execute a certain course of action within a given margin of risk, but whether they will do so is ultimately a political choice. That choice—even if it is made by a single leader—will be made in light of other factors, including domestic political conditions, perceived external provocations, the relative capabilities of other countries, and the diversity of interests that China is trying to advance. Analysts thus need to consider what those intervening variables are and how they could stimulate, or prevent, Chinese leaders from making full use of their enhanced capabilities.
Witnessing assertive behavior
A final category of information is China’s recent pattern of behavior in regional disputes. Much has been written in the last decade about Chinese “assertiveness.”22 In a nutshell, aggressive actions became more frequent towards the end of the Hu Jintao era, likely as a result of the perception of US decline stoked by the global financial crisis, and this trend continued into the Xi era. Some of the most notable cases include unsafe military encounters at sea and in the air, aggressive land reclamation and installation of military equipment in the Spratlys, economic coercion targeted at places like South Korea and Taiwan, sabre rattling across the Sino-Indian border, and China’s outright rejection of the 2016 UN arbitration ruling on the South China Sea.
Aggression, whether in the military, economic, or diplomatic spheres, indicates a propensity to expand China’s influence at the expense of the rights and interests of other countries. One might speculate that a similar pattern of behavior will develop in other regions as China’s global capabilities mature. Charting projections from recent behavior, however, is problematic for two reasons. First, as with China’s capabilities, we need to acknowledge that some of its actions in regional conflicts are not strategic. Dangerous incidents involving Chinese aircraft and ships may, in some cases, be a result of poor training or recklessness on the part of individual units or operators, rather than guidance from Beijing. Chinese paramilitary units, such as maritime militia ships, might be especially prone to these problems given lower professionalism than regular forces. A caveat, however, is that if reckless behavior continues—and is reported in major media outlets—professions of ignorance from central authorities become far less credible.23
Some assertive behavior is also likely reactive, rather than carried out as part of a meticulous strategic plan. China’s policies targeting South Korean businesses in 2017 were clearly a response to Seoul’s consideration of hosting a US theater missile defense system.24 Land reclamation and installation of military weapons and equipment in the Spratlys, however, looks much more like the product of a carefully planned, incrementally executed plan to strengthen Chinese coercive capabilities in the South China Sea—even if Beijing justifies those actions as a purely defensive response to provocative US military operations in the region.
Second, expectations of future behavior also need to account for evidence of Chinese restraint. At a broad strategic level, when it has decided that it is in its own interest to do so, China has followed some of the norms and customs of the international community. Beijing prizes its status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council—perhaps the epitome of the postwar international order—because of its ability to raise the costs for US and other western military interventions by exercising its veto. China has also been an advocate for nuclear non-proliferation, implementing the letter, if not always the spirit, of UN Security Council sanctions against even longstanding partners such as Iran and North Korea.
Chinese restraint also extends, to a degree, to regional hotspots. While Beijing has expanded its military presence in the South and East China seas, utilized Coast Guard and maritime militia forces to enforce sovereignty claims, and often imposed various non-military costs (such as trade sanctions and diplomatic isolation) on its regional rivals, it has generally avoided the use of lethal force. Chinese military units could quickly dislodge Filipino marines from their positions on Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratlys, for instance, but have not done so. Similarly, China has a menu of military options it could exercise against Taiwan, such as invading a smaller offshore
island or conducting a punitive air or missile campaign, but has not exercised those options.25
A related complication is China’s tendency to defuse conflicts when the costs of escalation outweigh the benefits. An example is the 2017 Doklam dispute, which involved a tense standoff between Chinese and Indian troops along the tri-border region between China, India, and Bhutan. Chinese army engineers provocatively constructed a road through Bhutan-claimed territory in southern Doklam, but then desisted when India decided to intervene. Rather than escalating, Beijing opted to mend ties with New Delhi, whose support was needed on other issues, such as refraining from openly opposing the BRI. This does not mean that China was permanently dissuaded from military encroachment; it only signified that Beijing was willing to tactically withdraw to meet larger objectives.
The major dilemma that Beijing will have to navigate in the coming years will be between advancing its territorial claims and achieving unification with Taiwan—revisionist objectives— while simultaneously preserving regional stability and constructive political and economic relations with other major players —status quo objectives—which is needed to sustain China’s long-term economic growth.26 Analysts should thus pay close attention to evidence that China is moving away from this careful balancing act. One indicator, as mentioned above, would be a shift in Beijing’s judgment on the “period of strategic opportunity.” Behavioral evidence would include a proclivity for solving disputes through force and risking major disruptions to China’s relations with heavyweights such as Japan and India. Such evidence would reflect a fundamental decision that a slow and deliberate rise to power is no longer in China’s interest.
Are China’s intentions knowable?
China’s lack of transparency remains the key obstacle to understanding its strategic goals. Pivotal decisions are made in elite circles: one would have to be a fly on the wall within China’s central leadership compound in Beijing to have a high level of confidence in our judgements. Moreover, with much greater access to US political debates, influential figures, key strategic and budgetary documents, public information about US military deployments and capabilities, and so on, Chinese observers can discern US intentions with much greater precision than we can discern theirs. However, Beijing is not so inscrutable that tentative conclusions about its long-term goals cannot be drawn from information in the public domain. These data fall generally into three bins: what they say, what they build, and what they do. Hypotheses can be developed and weighed against evidence from one, two, or all three categories. Multiple sources can also be used to assess the credibility of Chinese declarations. For instance, Xi Jinping’s 2015 pledge that China would not militarize the Spratlys was quickly disproven by satellite imagery. China’s present coercive campaign against Taiwan, with frequent allusions to the potential use of force, can also be tested against public data, such as the pace of Chinese shipbuilding (which currently does not appear to be optimized to support a major island landing campaign).27
Utilizing open sources to gauge China’s intentions is most successful under five conditions. First, open source information needs to remain widely available. Think tanks such as CSIS and AEI have performed a valuable public service by making large datasets available to researchers globally, and by updating them periodically. US government agencies should also, wherever possible, make underlying source data available. For instance, National Defense University has provided an open source database of Chinese military diplomacy between 2003 and 2016, freely available for all researchers.28 A challenge is that access to some data, including books, periodicals, and even Chinese interlocutors themselves, cannot be guaranteed. Such challenges may intensify with increasing Sino-US competition, where both sides take steps to restrict access to information, and where academic and other types of unofficial exchanges might be curtailed. Finding ways to retain access to open sources should thus be a priority for researchers.
Second, analysts need to be careful in separating the “signal” from the “noise” in dealing with some sources. There is no shortage of opinions from China’s pundit class, for instance, but assessing which voices matter on which issues can be challenging. Just because a senior think tank expert or uniformed military officer makes a provocative comment on a China Central Television debate program does not mean that a drastic escalation is imminent. However, discounting those opinions would deprive us of clues about actions that are at least being publicly discussed, though we would need to look for confirming evidence elsewhere. The key is to properly contextualize the ambiguity surrounding those sources. The larger point is that quality is often much more important than the sheer quantity of sources.
Third is accounting for alternative explanations. It is unrealistic to assume that all of China’s power resources, and its contentious behavior, reflect a strategic masterplan, but it would also be erroneous to think that none of it is premeditated. Analysts should be able to make at least conditional judgments about which capabilities and actions are strategic, and which are not, based on the circumstances. Some of the alternative explanations for external behavior that do not receive enough attention are internal: elite politics, posturing for a domestic audience, and bureaucratic politics. Reference to these factors may be useful in elucidating China’s motives and explaining empirical puzzles, even if direct evidence is often lacking. Why, for instance, does China need multiple aircraft carriers when its primary contingencies are within range of Chinese air bases?
Fourth is understanding the processes through which decisions are made. While judgments about China’s intentions can be derived from outcomes, some insight can also be gleaned from the nature of the process: which individuals matter, what role do party conclaves and planning documents play, how are budgets allocated, when and how can bureaucracies insert their own agendas, how do private actors fit in, and so on. China’s heretofore opaque National Security Commission is a good example. What role does that organization play in promoting cooperation between military and civilian agencies, and in assembling long-term plans? Answers to these kinds of questions allow us to understand both the opportunities and constraints within the Chinese system as Beijing converts strategic visions into actual plans.
Finally, analysts should be open to disconfirming evidence. Confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, and groupthink are age-old analytic maladies, and assessments of China’s future behavior are not immune. Countering these problems requires that analysts be open to data that does not fit their preconceived notions. On the BRI, for instance, much attention has been paid to China’s “debt diplomacy”: this narrative draws selectively from specific cases where this has been a problem, but tends to avoid the larger observation that most BRI partners are not at serious debt distress risk.29 Similarly, while dangerous incidents between Chinese and US air and naval forces do occur, supporting a narrative of Chinese “assertiveness,” most encounters—which tend not to make the headlines—are safe and professional. Even if it does not change the basic judgment, contrary evidence should still be considered and the reasons for discounting it clearly explained.
It is entirely possible that analysts looking at the open source record in a comprehensive and rigorous way will still assess that China is bent on regional hegemony and global dominance, however defined. Others looking at the same evidence may reach more reserved conclusions. This is a product of both the fragmentary and hard to assess types of materials we must use in the absence of truly authoritative information, and the fundamentally subjective nature of drawing inferences. The debate will continue, but it will be more useful if it is based on analysis, rather than conjecture.
The views expressed in this paper are the author’s alone and not those of NDU, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
1. Michael Pillsbury, The Hundred Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2015), 12.
2. Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: Department of Defense 2018), 2.
3. See, e.g., Peter Mattis, “A Shaky Case for Chinese Deception,” War on the Rocks, February 19, 2015, https://warontherocks.com/2015/02/a-shaky-case-for-chinese-deception-a-review-of-the-hundred-year-marathon/; Jude Blanchette, “A Secret Plot by an Ancient Civilization to Take Over the World: Book Review of Michael Pillsbury,” China Focus, April 2, 2015, https://chinafocus.ucsd.edu/2015/04/02/a-secret-plot-by-an-ancient-civilization-to-take-over-the-world-book-review-of-michael-pillsbury/; and Alastair Iain Johnston, “Shaky Foundations: The ‘Intellectual Architecture’ of Trump’s China Policy,” Survival 61:2 (2019), 189-202.
4. Paul Heer, “Understanding the Challenge from China,” The Asan Forum, April 3, 2018, https://asanforum.shoplic.site/understanding-the-challenge-from-china/.
5. “Full Text of Xi Jinping’s Report at the 19th CPC National Congress,” Xinhua, November 3, 2017, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/special/2017-11/03/c_136725942.htm.
6. For a discussion of this concept, see M. Taylor Fravel, “Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, June 20, 2019,” 1-6.
7. See, e.g., Chinese defense minister Wei Fenghe’s speech at the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue, which can be found at: https://www.iiss.org/events/shangri-la-dialogue/shangri-la-dialogue-2019.
8. Between the authoritative and non-authoritative levels, Michael Swaine usefully identifies a class of “quasi-authoritative” sources, such as People’s Daily homophonous editorials. For a discussion of how these kinds of sources can be used to gauge Chinese intentions, see Paul H.B. Godwin and Alice L. Miller, China’s Forbearance Has Limits: Chinese Threat and Retaliation Signaling and Its Implications for a Sino-American Military Confrontation, China Strategic Perspectives 6, April 2013.
9. A striking example of a debate in Chinese policy circles that culminated in a key strategic judgment concerned the nature of the threat from the United States after the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. For a discussion, see David Finkelstein, “China Reconsiders Its National Security: The ‘Great Peace and Development Debate of 1999,” CNA Regional Assessment, December 2000.
10. Da Wei, “A Restructuring International Order and the Paradigm Shift in China-U.S. Relations,” China International Strategy Review 1:1 (2019), 10.
11. For a review of these two publications, see David M. Finkelstein, “Everything You Need to Know about the Chinese Military If You Don’t Read Chinese,” Proceedings 145 (2019), https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2019/june/everything-you-need-know-about-chinese-military-if-you-dont-read.
12. See, e.g., Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, August 2018).
13. John Costello and Joe McReynolds, China’s Strategic Support Force: A Force for a New Era, China Strategic Perspectives 13, October 2018.
18. Joel Wuthnow, Chinese Perspectives on the Belt and Road Initiative: Strategic Rationales, Risks, and Implications, China Strategic Perspectives 12, October 2017, 8-12.
19. For a discussion, see Joel Wuthnow, “China’s Belt and Road: One Initiative, Three Strategies,” in Ashley J. Tellis et al., eds., Strategic Asia 2019: China’s Expanding Strategic Ambitions (Washington, DC: NBR, 2019).
20. Yuen Yuen Ang, “Demystifying Belt and Road,” Foreign Affairs, May 22, 2019, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2019-05-22/demystifying-belt-and-road.
On navy-air force competition, see Ian Burns McCaslin and Andrew S. Erickson, “The Impacts of Xi-Era Reforms on the Chinese Navy,” in Phillip C. Saunders et al., eds., Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms (Washington, DC: NDU Press, 2019), 125-170. On army interests, see John Chen, “Choosing the ‘Least Bad Option’: Organizational Interests and Change in the PLA Ground Forces,” in Ibid., 85-124.
22. See, e.g., Alastair Iain Johnston, “How New and Assertive is China’s New Assertiveness?” International Security 37:4 (2013), 7-48; Oriana Skylar Mastro, “Why Chinese Assertiveness Is Here to Stay,” The Washington Quarterly 37:4 (2014), 151-170; Zhou Fangyin, “Between Assertiveness and Self-Restraint: Understanding China’s South China Sea Policy,” International Affairs 92:4 (2016), 869-890.
23. For instance, the Chinese pilot who was involved in the 2001 EP-3 crash off Hainan had previously been involved on other cases of reckless maneuvering. In cases such as this, it stretches the imagination to assume that high-level military and civilian leaders would not have been made aware.
24. Bonnie S. Glaser, Daniel G. Sofio, and David A. Parker, “The Good, the THAAD, and the Ugly,” Foreign Affairs, February 15, 2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2017-02-15/good-thaad-and-ugly.
25. Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 84-5.
26. Thanks to Phillip Saunders for this insight.
27. The 2019 China Military Power report notes that: “PLA services and support forces continue to improve training and acquire new capabilities for a Taiwan contingency, but there is no indication that China is significantly expanding its landing ship force necessary for an amphibious assault on Taiwan.” Annual Report to Congress, 83.
29. John Hurley, Scott Morris, and Gailyn Portelance, “Examining the Debt Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative from a Policy Perspective,” Center for Global Development, March 2018.